The Free 2 Play Catch – Post Launch Burden and 6 Methods to Reduce It

This is a guest post by Yaniv Nizan who is the CEO and Co-Founder of The SOOMLA Project, the platform for Creating In-App Purchase Stores for Mobile Games. You can follow Yaniv at @y_nizan

Game Developers for iPhone and Android these days are well aware of the Free 2 Play model and the benefits of applying it in the context of mobile apps to monetize through In-App purchases.

It is no coincidence that out of the $7 Billion dollars paid by Apple to mobile game developers, more than 80 percent was due to transactions made with In-App Purchase Stores.

Less known are some of the hidden traps in this model. Unlike with paid apps, Free 2 Play games are better thought of as a service rather than a product. More specifically, this translates into a lot more post launch effort that can easily add up to a full time job when combining the work spent on business issues, code maintenance and design updates.

Here are some areas in which you can expect post launch activity in Free 2 Play Games:

-Billing support issues
-Monitoring ratings and reviews
-Analyzing and optimizing user engagement and conversion into paying customers
-Trying out different advertising based revenue sources, integrating, evaluating and optimizing
-Integrating different plugins to increase user engagement
-Managing notifications and promotions
-Adding and refreshing content such as seasonal/holiday related content
-Monitoring different SDKs and maintaining the code that interacts with them as the API changes
-Adding billing providers in different territories to increase the likelihood of IAP transactions
-Identifying user segments and designing different app interaction when applicable

All these different activities add up to a continuous stream of tasks that quickly becomes an unexpected burden. If you take another look at the list, you will also discover that none of these tasks are fun or glorious— not really what you signed up for when deciding to make games.

The good news is that there are quite a few ways to minimize the effort needed for these tasks.

Here are 6 methods to manage these tasks more effectively,

1 – Separate the App Meta Data from the Code

This is the most complicated one, so let’s get it out of the way first. When writing the game code, identify every element that can be turned into a parameter and put all of them in a single file, list or database. This will be called your App Meta Data. Doing so can save you a lot of time when you want to update parameters in the game and tweak it later on. Architecting your code in this manner will also allow you much quicker integration with any backend (BAAS) solution down the line.

2 – Use Services that Aggregate Different SDKs

One of the things developers quickly realize once they start using third party SDKs is that each SDK requires maintenance as time goes by. Any service that aggregates different advertising providers or different billing providers can help you save effort on SDK maintenance.

3 – Focus Your User Acquisition and Monetization Strategy

Most game developers would like to improve user acquisition and monetization. There is a temptation to add more channels in each one of those categories. The result is that each one of these channels takes its toll and increases the amount of ongoing effort. There is work associated with monitoring the performance of each one and making sure it doesn’t decline over time. Therefore, it’s recommended to focus efforts on a small number of proven channels rather than chasing too many opportunities.

4 – Measure a Small Number of KPIs and Double the Analysis Intervals

One area that can easily suck up a nice portion of your time is analysis and measurement. In an extreme situation, you can find yourself gazing at the revenue chart and hitting refresh every five minutes. In most cases, the time spent can be reduced drastically by focusing on 3-5 KPIs and resisting the urge to open your analytics console too frequently. In fact, for most games, the optimal analysis interval is bigger than two weeks due to the small number of data points.

5 – Create a Score Card for Providers and Include Post Launch Effort

Another method that can sometimes save effort after game launch is simply increasing your awareness to the ongoing effort issue and adding this parameter when evaluating different SDK and plugin providers. Some even go as far as creating a Score Card for evaluating different providers and adding the post launch time consumption as one of the parameters.

6 – Choose Cross Platform Providers

Many mobile games want to expand into new hardware platforms after seeing early success. Typically, a game would start on iOS and then move to Android, Amazon and Windows. There is an obvious effort in porting the game to a new platform which can be reduced significantly by developing the game on a cross-platform engine. Now, let’s imagine that this was already taken care of and compare a situation where you are using 5 SDKs/Plugins and moving from a single platform to three platforms. If the plugins are not seamlessly supporting multiple platforms, you need to find new providers for each platform which results in having 15 plugins (five plugins times three platforms) to manage.

To summarize, the key is preparation, awareness and focus. If you are launching your first mobile game, you should familiarize yourself with these issues and take the necessary steps beforehand and you should be fine. This way, you will have your mind free to focus on your exciting new game.

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